What IS mentoring?

The term ‘mentoring’ gets used a lot. For Simon Cowell and friends it’s a large quantity of hair dye, smoke machines and arguing. This is thankfully not the case for TimeBank’s latest mentoring project, The Switch.

Instead the term ‘mentoring’ is used to describe the support, encouragement and inspiration that volunteer mentors provide to young people aged 16-18 who are living with mental health issues like depression, anxiety or self-harm.

At the time of their mentoring these young people will be making the transfer from Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services to those designed for adults, or beginning an adult life independent of mental health services.  This is a time that can leave some young people feeling uncertain, abandoned, overwhelmed and hopeless. But support from a TimeBank mentor can make a world of difference.

“But how can a mentor make a difference?” I hear the cynics ask. Quite simply is the answer. Mentors give five hours a month for 6–12 months to spend time with their mentee. They go out for coffee, try something new or enjoy a hobby together. Basically the mentors give dedicated, purposeful and impartial one-to-one time to someone who needs that extra bit of help. Mentoring for The Switch is about helping a young person to reach achievable goals; it’s about taking small steps and realising their significance. It’s being the person who will patiently make bus journeys with a young person, going a little further from their comfort zone each time. So eventually the young person can make these journeys (and many more) without needing support.

Mentoring isn’t a fix for mental health issues. But it can help a young person to understand that they are not defined by their mental health background. That they are able to access different and exciting activities, meet new people and improve their emotional well-being. It’s important to note that mentors are not counsellors. Mentoring is not a therapy session; it is an opportunity to talk and share but not to delve into the mentee’s mental health and psyche. Mentoring is also not a dictatorship, it’s not an opportunity to tell someone how to live their life and the decisions they should be making. It’s about being a good sounding board, potentially suggesting options but always allowing the mentee to come to their own decisions.

So, if you want to make a difference, have five hours a month to spare, enjoy spending time with people and trying new things, please find out more and apply to become a mentor for The Switch.